Top 5 Historical Facts about the Cemetery of Montmartre

Not quite as green as the Père Lachaise Cemetery in the east, nor as big as Montparnasse Cemetery in the south; the Montmartre Cemetery remains an important landmark in the city of Paris.

Located on Montmartre hill in the 18th arrondissement of the city, the Montmartre Cemetery is the main cemetery of the district but not the only one.

Montmartre Cemetery – by MOSSOT – Wikimedia Commons

Many people are surprised to learn that there actually exists a second cemetery location in the neighborhood. It’s called Saint Vincent’s and it is located just east of the main cemetery.

Montmartre Cemetery is on the western side of the district. It is home to 20,000 residents — making it the third largest cemetery in all of Paris.

The cemetery has a long history within the French capital. Here are five historic facts that you may not know.

1. The Cemetery of Montmartre was Created to Manage Overcrowding

The 18th century in Paris was a tumultuous time during which the deceased people of the city were buried on regular parish church grounds. Eventually, these ground started to become overcrowded which lead to sanitation issues around the various arrondissements.

The city of Paris began implementing a new cemetery plan that would eventually roll out in the 19th century.

Montmartre Cemetery – by MOSSOT – Wikimedia Commons

The plan involved the construction of large cemetery facilities at the four coordinates of Paris. Montmartre Cemetery was one of them, and as mentioned the third biggest out the lot.

The parish church burials of Paris were closed down and Montmartre Cemetery officially took over in 1825. It remains the major cemetery of the north despite smaller burial grounds popping up in the surrounding areas.

2. It Was Once a Mass Gave Site

The cemetery opened on the 1st of January in 1825. It was first called the Cemetery of Large Quarries due to the specific location of the grounds.

The land on which the cemetery still exists today was once an abandoned gypsum quarry. During the French Revolution the quarry was used as a mass grave for all who lost their lives during this time.

Montmartre Cemetery – by Elisabetta Cipolla, Tantalas – Wikimedia Commons

Over the years the Cemetery of Large Quarries slowly became known on the streets as Montmartre Cemetery. Perhaps the large quarry label was triggering to those who lost loved ones in the mass gravesite.

Its location on Montmartre hill makes it a sought after tourist destination in the city of Paris (Read more about Discover walking tours). Its large size is able to accommodate visitors throughout the year, with ample space in which to laze on open patches amongst the graves under the Parisian sun.

3. Many Montmartre Based Artists are Buried There

Montmartre remained the district of the artists throughout the 19th century. Cost of living was cheap and artists enjoyed the proximity of the neighborhood to the playground of Paris: Pigalle.

Eventually when these artists passed away it was part of their wishes to be buried in the cemetery of their beloved Montmartre.

Painters Gustave Moreau and Horace Vernet are buried there. They were two of the first artists to live in Montmartre in the 19th century.

Montmartre Cemetery – by Moonik – Wikimedia Commons

Another influential artists in Paris during the 18th century, Fragonard, once had a grave in the Montmartre Cemetery. Sometime in the 19th century, however, his grave mysteriously went missing. Yes, missing. The mystery was never solved and today the barren grave is marked with a memorial plaque instead.

Writers and poets are also included in the mix at the cemetery. Théophile Gautier was on of the most successful French poets of all time, you can view his grave on the grounds.

4. There Has Only Ever Been One Entrance to the Montmartre Cemetery

Since the cemetery grounds were opened in 1825 the preemies has only ever had one entrance and exit. This can be found on Avenue Rachel just under Rue Caulaincourt.

This is the only cemetery in Paris that has never added additional entry points to the grounds as years have gone by. Its big brother grounds in the east and south, Père Lachaise and Montparnasse, have both seen construction of additional entry points in order to accommodate the daily influx of visitors.

Main entrance – by ManoSolo13241324 – Wikimedia Commons

Being able to enter and exit at just one spot on the property makes for an intimate cemetery ground to explore. You’re somewhat forced to make your way through the entirety of the grounds, especially if there is something specific you are looking for.

5. It Has Always Been a Green Garden-Style Cemetery

When the four major cemeteries of Paris were constructed they were done so with the interning of the grounds being a place where people would enjoy visiting; space that would be calming and pleasing to look at.

Montmatre Cemetery was one of the first garden cemeteries in France. Plants and greenery grow amongst the graves and trees hang low over the grave sites.

In the spring the cemetery is a wonder to observe as the plants begin to blossom.

Montmartre Cemetery – by MOSSOT – Wikimedia Commons

Garden cemeteries make for a whimsical place that is inviting and comforting to the individuals who want or need to visit. This landmark is enjoyed by both the loved ones of the residents and the tourists who visit Paris.

For those wanting to visit there are ample free guided walking tours through Montmartre district that can take you past the cemetery grounds. En route you’ll stop by other unmissable sights in this area including La Maison Rose, the Montmartre Museum and finally the Sacre Coeur church at the very top of the hill.